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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Why Loss of Senate Would Carry Silver Linings for Obama - Republican-Controlled Congress Might Find It Easier to Compromise

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:
Republicans like their odds on taking control of the Senate in these midterm elections. “The tea leaves are clear: It is going to be a very good Republican cycle,” declares GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who helps conduct the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
The Senate is the big prize in this fall’s voting, of course, and losing the chamber to Republicans, giving them full control of Congress, would represent a terrible outcome for the Democratic Party.
Oddly, though, it might not be such a bad outcome for one particular Democrat: President Barack Obama.
How can that be? A look back shows that eras of evenly divided power—Congress fully controlled by one party, the presidency by the other—have turned out to be among the most productive. And if you are a president yearning for elusive legislative achievements in the final two years of your term, anything that makes Washington more productive would be welcome, even if attaining some of that productivity required trimming your ideological sails.
When power is evenly split in Washington, both parties have to temper their policies. They can worry less about fully satisfying their ideological bases. When they have to compromise, it’s easier to say, “Hey, we had no choice. We have to put up with the other side.”
When the two parties have an equal share of power, they also have an equal share of responsibility for what does and doesn’t get done—and have to worry about taking the blame in the even more important 2016 election if things don’t get done. For Mr. Obama, in particular, full GOP control of Congress might well shift Republicans’ focus from stopping him to making things happen.
Mr. Obama also could deal more with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (assuming he wins his own tight re-election contest), who has shown that he can deliver on a deal, and less with House Speaker John Boehner, who has had a lot of trouble delivering his rambunctious House Republicans.
Meantime, the preoccupation of the House itself—already under Republican control and almost certain to remain comfortably so—likely would shift in some measure from dueling with the president to finding common ground with fellow Republicans in the Senate.
By no means should this suggest an outbreak of goodness and light with a switch of control in the Senate. Fights between Congress and the White House would erupt, brinkmanship would ensue, vetoes would be issued.
Moreover, if they have only narrow control of an unruly Senate, Republicans might not be able to control events at all. And maybe both sides would decide to merely posture in the run-up to 2016, or that they are better off delaying big decisions in hopes they get full control of both branches of government in that looming election.
Perhaps the biggest downside risk for the president would lie in the fact that, with the Senate majority, Republicans would have greater control of that chamber’s investigative machinery.
Still, substantive achievement can and does emerge from tension. To see how, merely look at the presidency of Bill Clinton, which Democrats remember fondly. Some of Mr. Clinton’s most notable achievements—a balanced budget, a welfare overhaul, badly needed changes to telecommunications law, a revamping of tax rates—took place when the Senate was in Republican hands.
Yes, Mr. Clinton was impeached by the Republican House along the way. But it was the Republican-controlled Senate that declined to convict him on those articles of impeachment—a step that cleared the way for a productive stretch run for the Clinton presidency.
In a new era of divided government, the most intriguing possibilities would lie in two areas: overhaul of the immigration system and a revamping of the tax code, at least the corporate tax. Both are badly needed. A clear majority in both parties readily acknowledges that.
What the two sides don’t agree on is how, precisely, to do those things. Democrats want a comprehensive immigration overhaul with a path to citizenship for illegal residents; Republicans want a piecemeal approach with no certain path to citizenship. Republicans want a revenue-neutral revision of the tax code; Democrats want one that adds revenue.
It’s a stalemate now on both fronts. But if the imperative to compromise were higher, because circumstances made it so, maybe the middle ground wouldn’t prove so elusive.
For Senate Democrats, loss of control would be a disaster. It would mean loss of committee chairmanships, loss of the ability to control the agenda, loss of some perks of power. For the Democratic president, it’s just possible there could be worse things.


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